18 May 2011

“Butler does struggle with double teams

Assessing the potential impact of the Packers’ draft picks

Green Bay Three of the first four players that the Green Bay Packers selected from the Southeastern Conference in the 2011, ’12, ’13 and ’14 drafts made the NFL all rookie team.

Randall Cobb, Eddie Lacy and Ha Ha Clinton Dix are three of the team’s top players, and Casey Hayward recently departed for $6.8 million guaranteed during free agency.

Given those bull’s eyes and the superiority of the SEC, it’s astounding that not one of the Packers’ 15 picks in the 2015 and ’16 drafts came from the conference.

Despite something of a down year, the SEC still led in players drafted (51) and first round picks (eight). You don’t hear scouts talking so much in the last two or three years about college football being the SEC and the minor leagues, but there’s a reason some teams still assign their best regional scouts to the South.

Instead, the Packers have chosen to mine the Pacific 12 Conference. They took a league leading four from there over the weekend, making it seven of their 15 selections the last two years and 15 in all over the last six drafts compared with seven for the SEC.

Nose tackle Kenny Clark of UCLA was the club’s fourth first round pick from the Pac 12 in the last five years, joining Nick Perry, Datone Jones and Damarious Randall.

"I know the guys upstairs are, like, ‘Why are we going to the West Coast so much?’" said Sam Seale, who has scouted the West for the Packers since 1995. "We ought to go down to the SEC, but to me football is football. If you’re a player, you’re a player."

Any organization would be hard pressed to stay ahead of the game without a steady influx of draft choices from the SEC.

Other than geography, the Packers’ 12th draft class for general manager Ted Thompson might be best remembered for its overall intelligence.

The seven choices averaged 25.4 on the 50 question Wonderlic intelligence test, about five points better than the NFL average. Green Bay’s selections averaged 22.6 a year ago, 23.2 in 2014 and 20.8 in ’13 (Charles Johnson’s score unavailable).

Last year, Thompson drafted extraneously, taking chances on nonessential pieces that a weaker team could not.

The Packers didn’t need another wide receiver (Ty Montgomery) in the third round, a quarterback (Brett Hundley) in the fifth, a fullback (Aaron Ripkowski) in the sixth or an undersized interior rusher (Christian Ringo) with no base position, also in the sixth.

Remarkably, just one of the eight choices last year weighed as much as 250 pounds.

In dramatic contrast, this was a meat and potatoes draft defined by need and size.

The Packers’ first five selections all fit what might be considered the team’s five positions of most need. If Dean Lowry were to eat a big steak dinner, then four would weigh at least 300 and two more are in the 240s.

The strong suspicion is that Darron Lee was the Packers’ guy in the first round, but he went seven slots before Clark to the Jets.

Myles Jack, regarded as an even better inside linebacker than Lee, was there at No. 27 but the Packers passed, presumably because their degree of medical risk was too great to warrant a first round choice and the first three years of guaranteed base salaries that go with it.

Rather than resort to superficiality and assign a letter grade on this draft overall, let’s dig into the Packers’ choices. Much of the information stems from countless interviews with general managers, personnel directors and area scouts in the last five months on more than 350 draft eligible players.

Following each pick are two numbers. On a 1 to 10 scale with 10 being the highest the first number is the player’s chance to make a significant contribution as a rookie and the second number is his chance to make a significant contribution during his career in Green Bay.

Kenny Clark, NT, UCLA (9, 9): Several personnel people said they would have taken Louisiana Tech’s Vernon Butler with the 27th choice rather than Clark. Butler, they say, has more versatility and pass rush due in part to his much longer arms (35 inches to 32 1/8) and better quickness.

Be that as it may, for what the Packers need now and in the foreseeable future, it’s hard to quibble with the decision to pick Clark.

Clark is better against the run as a nose tackle than Butler. Raji, the Packers needed to exit this draft with a suitable replacement.

"Butler does struggle with double teams," one scout said last week. "He gets his pads up and doesn’t drop to a knee and split the double team. He shows a tendency to get driven back at times. He has a little laziness about him."

The fact Clark played in the Pac 12 and not Conference USA, as did Butler, should be another comforting factor for the Packers.

Clark plays with a burning intensity not unlike Mike Daniels, according to one executive in personnel. Besides the fire, he seems to be one of those interior players that gains natural leverage and is difficult to move.

Maybe Clark, at least early in his career, can provide pass rush on nickel downs. Raji played an exorbitant amount of snaps in years two, three and four, primarily because he was too valuable to rest.

Raji’s pressure totals of 33 1/2 in 2010, 191/2 in ’11 and 19 in ’12 fell precipitously in ’13 and ’15. The sense is that Clark doesn’t have quite the movement of the youthful Raji, but one scout warned that the talent difference between them might be less than imagined.

The Packers spoke about Clark’s maturity, especially for a 20 year old. In my conversations with scouts, his intangibles were off the charts.

Could Clark be an effective 5 technique? Ryan Pickett was the same height but did an adequate job playing opposite the tackle from 2010 ’12 when Raji was riding high over the center. Clark probably could, too, but nose is his best position.

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